blackQueen’s strange mixture of death, doom, horror colors huge-sounding ‘The Directress’

BlackqueenSome bands, no matter how underground or ugly their sound, were just meant for bigger stages. That doesn’t necessarily mean headlining arenas or summer sheds but just having more room to stretch out and have your ideas flex out like they should.

San Francisco’s blackQueen are long overdue for that push upward, and perhaps the music they put forth on their second full-length effort “The Directress” could be what get them there. The band long has been high on ambition, stretching their self-dubbed witch metal on live stages and onto short films (if you were at the first Housecore Horror Film Festival, you got a chance to see their film) and expanding their bizarre mix of death and black metal, doom, thrash, and spacey experimental style. There is a ton going on with this band, and with their penchant for draping their horrors over a screen, they could benefit from burning down a larger room where their majesty could be unrolled in full.

Blackqueen coverBlackQueen originally was formed in 1998 by Pete Jay (original Assück bassist) and put out their “Witch Metal” demo and an EP before disappearing back into the night. The band re-emerged with a new lineup earlier this decade with Jay (known as bZZrd in this band and on guitar and vocals) along with bassist Ursula Stuart, drummer Alex Bytnar (Galdr, Wounded Giant), and keyboard/synth/samples master Brandon Fitzsimons on board (not to mention a collective-style gathering of players sprinkled over the East and West coasts). The band holed up with the esteemed Billy Anderson to record this seven-track beast, and along the way they amassed guests including Uta Plotkin (formerly of Witch Mountain), Paul Pavlovich (Assück), Joy Von Spain (Eye of Nix), and Wrest (Leviathan) to add their pipes to this horrific display that’s as fun to hear play out as it is damaging for your central nervous system.

“The Olde Religion” begins the record in a doomy haze, with riffs sprawling and groans spilling out. This slides into mashing chaos, with wails and growls emanating, but a strange, detached clean voice from bZZrd that comes and goes on this thing. Guitar soloing starts to buckle, as choral waves crash, the sing/growl struggle continues, and the back end thrashes the hell out of you. “Silentium” begins in a strange bed of noise before it tears apart and begins the death metal assault. The growls are deep and bruising, while the shrieks tear at your senses, and the speed they unleash at the end of the song would make every would-be thrash start-up quit, for they cannot match this force. “The Names of Snakes” begins with a clip from the film “Suspiria” (it’s one of many film quotes worked into the record), as heavy doom thunders and the chugging pace hits full tilt. Vicious shrieks drive the plot, though some chant-like singing arrives and adds a chill, and the band again dabbles in blinding speed that could cause a few elbows to greet chins live. Murky synth later pours down, as the vocals are spat out, and the last moments are utterly relentless. “3rd Key” lets keys pulsate, as heavy breathing and cries are enough to make your skin crawl. The song has its muddy moments, and don’t be surprised to find your nerves frayed at the end of this one as it absolutely thumps you.

“Forever Daggers” is the strangest of the bunch, which is saying something, as it smashes into existence with a thick key glaze behind it. Goth-style singing arises on the choruses after gruffer verses, and there are parts of the song that strike me as vampiric. It took me a little while to get into this one, but after a few tries I’m under the spell. “Beneath the Barrow” is slow-driving and melody filled, with verses that border on hypnotic and feel dressed by detached levels of personal horror. The song swirls and swelters, goes clean and gentle for a spell, spins into mesmerizing territory, and then completely ignites in its final moments, ending things with operatic drama and total fire. The closing 9:31 title track feels like fall winds are in the air, with death dropping everywhere and piano notes splattering. The singing is dreary, sometimes alternating with furious growls, while the tempo never remains stagnant, moving from furious thrash to stunning keys washing everywhere to a ghoulish section where air wooshes and old souls wail. The track kicks back in with a couple of minutes left, letting the band pack a few final daggers into their opponents, who have been caught off guard and robbed of their breath.

Perhaps blackQueen are too heavy, bizarre, and spellbinding ever to graduate to a larger stage, but that’s on a populace never daring enough to experience danger. I can only imagine what this band could do in a nice-sized, darkened theater, the power of the songs from “The Directress” in hand, and their screens popping to life with sensational, spooky imagery. We can dream big, can’t we? Until then, their sound and their visions will have to be gigantic inside your own mind, as you’re haunted again and again by their witchcraft.

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